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Prosecutors on Monday arrested Michio Uchida, vice president of Japan Highway Public Corp., for allegedly helping to rig bids for bridge projects ordered by the highway body.

Investigators also searched Japan Highway’s headquarters in Tokyo for evidence.

Uchida, 60, is suspected of helping his colleagues violate the Antimonopoly Law in a case involving the construction of an elevated bridge in Shizuoka Prefecture in May 2004, and of breach of trust for causing the government-run highway operator to make up to 50 million yen in unnecessary payments.

In the widening bid-rigging scandal involving bridge builders who have been repeatedly warned about engaging in anticompetitive practices, dozens of companies and several executives have been indicted in connection with violations of the Antimonopoly Law.

According to investigators, Uchida allegedly worked with Sozo Kanda, a former board member of Japan Highway who was advising Yokogawa Bridge Corp., to coordinate bid-rigging for bridge projects financed by the public corporation.

Kanda allegedly played a key role in deciding which companies would win the bids.

Knowing that Kanda would pick the winners, Uchida allegedly instructed Japan Highway officials to split the public corporation’s bridge project in Shizuoka Prefecture into several orders, making it easier for Kanda to allocate them among different companies.

He also allegedly allowed the public corporation to use about 50 million yen for unnecessary payments linked to the order.

On July 12, prosecutors arrested Kanda and four officials from major bridge building companies.

The Tokyo High Public Prosecutor’s Office had been investigating Japan Highway to determine whether current officials were involved in the bid-rigging.

The five under arrest allegedly conspired to rig bids for bridge projects financed by Japan Highway in fiscal 2003 and 2004 in violation of the Antimonopoly Law.

They are believed to have played key roles in deciding which firm would win each bid through two contractor networks — K-kai, a group of 17 major bridge-building firms, and A-kai, which groups 30 smaller bridge builders.

Uchida has previously stressed that he has no knowledge about K-kai and A-kai.

On June 15, prosecutors indicted 26 companies and eight of their employees in connection with a bid-rigging case involving government bridge construction projects.

Uchida graduated from University of Tokyo and joined Japan Highway in 1968.

He became vice president of the public corporation in June 2004.

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